Arthritis is unavoidable and often a natural consequence of normal “wear and tear” of the spinal column. However, pain associated with spinal arthritis can now be a thing of the past with the help of Modern Pain Consultants. We offer innovative, conservative, and minimally invasive treatments for arthritis. We are confident we can treat and free you from your arthritic pain.
What is Facet Arthropathy?
The facet joints connect the vertebral bodies to one another, and like the hip and the knee, they can also become arthritic and painful, and can be a source of back pain. The facet joints are located at the back of the spine and counterbalance the intervertebral discs. They help keep the normal alignment of the spinal vertebrae and limit motion. The pain and discomfort that is caused by degeneration and arthritis of this part of the spine is called facet arthropathy, which simply means a disease or abnormality of the facet joints.
What Are the Symptoms of Facet Arthropathy?
Most people with facet arthropathy will complain of lower back pain that becomes worse when twisting, standing, or bending backwards. Generally, the pain is confined to a particular point in the spine, and unlike the pain and numbness often caused by a slipped disc or sciatica, it does not usually radiate into the buttocks or down the legs.
As the facet joints become arthritic, they often develop bone spurs, or tiny outgrowths or projections of bone, which can decrease the amount of space available for the nerve roots as they exit the spinal canal. This can contribute to the development of spinal stenosis, another condition that may cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the buttocks and legs. In fact, people who have facet arthropathy often have other conditions that may be contributing to their symptoms.
How is Facet Arthropathy Diagnosed?
To find out if facet arthropathy is causing your back pain, your doctor may order the following tests:
- A CT scan (CAT scan) or MRI, which shows evidence of facet joint degeneration, even in most people who only have mild to moderate pain.
- A bone scan, which shows areas of active inflammation in the spine.
- Medial Branch Blocks utilize a local anesthetic injected into the medial branch nerve that supplies the facet joints to interrupt the pain pathway to reaching the brain. This procedure confirms facet arthropathy prior to initiating radiofrequency ablation therapy.
What are treatment options for facet arthropathy?
There are several options for treating the pain and symptoms caused by facet arthropathy:
- Non-surgical treatments – anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy are mainstream therapy for initial treatment .
- Radiofrequency ablation – destroy the nerves that supply the facet joints that send the impulse of pain of the facets to the brain. This procedure uses small electrical probes that are inserted through the skin into the area of the nerves to the facet joints, and utilizes an electrical current that destroys the nerve sent to the tip of the probe.
- Back surgery is reserved for patients that do not respond to less conservative therapies.